Are all domestic cats tabbies?

When you look at domestic cats today, you see a very wide range of coat types and colours. You would be deceived into believing that all domestic cats are not tabbies but technically they are. It seems that tabby cats are only one part of the wide spectrum of coat types but genetically the truth is different to what we see because in reality all domestic cats are tabbies.

Stunning black mackerel tabby male cat
Stunning black mackerel tabby male cat. Photo in public domain.
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They all carry the genes to produce the tabby coat but the tabby pattern is masked by other non-tabby colours and patterns created by other genes. When these other genes are absent you see the various tabby coats which in essence is a mixture of banded (agouti) hairs and black hairs which are arranged in patches and patterns which in turn dictates how we describe the tabby coat.

On a careful inspection of my cat’s coat, it seems to me that the pattern created by the black hairs is actually formed because the top section of each hair strand is black not because the entire hair strand is black. And it appears that the tabby gene dictates that a bunch of these hair strands come together in one place to form the pattern.

RELATED: A full and comprehensive page on the tabby coat.

You probably know the five different types of tabby coat: mackerel tabby, blotched or classic tabby, spotted tabby, ticked tabby and patched tabby.

The mackerel tabby is the ancient tabby pattern which is close to the one we see on the North African wildcat (African-Asian wildcat), the ancient ancestor of the domestic cat and which is still present in Africa. This is a striped tabby but the stripes are often broken up so you get stripes and spots. There is a crossover between the mackerel and spotted.

The blotched tabby emerged as I recall in the 18th-century through natural selection among domestic cats. It is the most common form of tabby marking currently which is why it is referred to as the classic tabby pattern. That’s slightly misleading because, as mentioned, the mackerel is more classic than the blotched.

Dr. Desmond Morris says that it is not known whether the spotted tabby is produced from specific genes or whether they are due to a broken mackerel tabby.

The ticked tabby is the Abyssinian coat, a salt-and-pepper appearance but no distinct markings. The patch tabby is another name for the tortoiseshell tabby or torbie.

Torbie Cats

And over many years, pedigree cat breeders have expanded and refined tabby codes to produce many colour variants such as a blue tabby, brown patch tabby, cameo tabby, dilute cameo tabby and chocolate silver tabby. There are many more.

It is believed that the word “tabby” is a derivative from the word “Atabi”. This is a type of silk manufactured in the Attabiah district of Baghdad and which was exported to England in large quantities. The striped patterns on the silk were compared with the markings of what was called, back in the day, the Striped Cat or Tiger Cat. This was a reference to tabby cats in the 18th and 19th centuries. As a result of this similarity between the patterns on the silk and these cats, they were then referred to as ‘tabbi’ cats and then tabby cats. That’s my understanding of the development of this word.

What percentage of orange tabby cats are female?

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